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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Book Review-Zeigler, How I Teach

Donald_zeigler Donald H. Zeigler, a popular law professor at New York Law School, recently published How I Teach (Tribeca Square Press  (2008). The book, actually its a soft paper back monograph, spans 50 pages and was just a joy to read. Importantly, the book can be read in one sitting.  Professor Zeigler, who has taught Civil Procedure, Evidence and Federal Courts for 30 years, outlines the tools that have made him a successful teacher.

The book starts out explaining how Professor Zeigler prepares for class. He introduces a theme that appears throughout his work-preparation, preparation, preparation. Professor Zeigler spends a significant amount of time organizing the class and prepares a detailed outline for himself  which includes questions for the class as well as model answers. He also includes transition information from one case to another. He calls this material "scripts."

Prof. Zeigler also explains that he views the role of a law school teacher as helping students embrace uncertainty. It is through the questions on his scripts that students are taught to embrace the ambiguity in the law.

Prof. Zeigler utilizes the Socratic method of teaching and if a student is unprepared, he will be called on again during the next class. One tip that I found very helpful is that when this Professor calls on students he asks them relatively easy questions which are designed to stimulate discussion.  Zeigler is also honest with his students. When I student asks a question that he cannot answer, he is not afraid to tell the students that he does not know the answer. 

Interestingly, Prof. Zeigler likes to keep a certain distance from students. Though he runs a business like informal class, he calls students by their last names. He also uses humor to keep the class alert and engaged. Because some of his classes are by his own admission rather dry, he makes notes of the jokes he has used and repeats them in later classes. 

Zeigler is also pleasant and polite to his students and he trys to maintain eye contact. He does not make fun of students who give wrong answers and if they are talking in class he speaks to them alone after class. He also wears a sport jacket and tie to every class to show respect.

Prof. Zeigler's exams are a mix of objective multiple choice type questions and subjective essays. He uses a number system to grade essays where he writes a number in the essay book when the student correctly analyzed a certain point of law. On weak exams he makes comments in case the student comes in to speak to him about his or her exam.  When students do review there exam, he gives them a copy of an "A" paper so they can see where they went wrong.

One thing missing from this book is any discussion about the use of technology in teaching. Laptops, Google and Blogs, like this one, are a way of life for students. I am a bit surprised that Prof. Zeigler does not include links to particularly good web sites or blogs that discuss the topics that he teaches. At a minimum, this may stimulate student interest in the topic and demonstrate to them that cases such as International Shoe really do matter.

I recognize that Prof. Zeigler is an older prof. and I assume that he does not utilize computer assisted resources that are readily available today. I would have liked him to explain his thoughts about the use of technology in the classroom. 

When I started teaching, I was not given any reference material. Frankly, I believe that this is because there is not much good material about the art of law school teaching-that is until now. This book can be very helpful to new law professors (both full time and adjunct). More experienced profs can benefits from it as well.  Law Schools should seriously consider providing copies to their faculty.

Another review done by a Professor at Marquette Law School is available here.   Purchase information is as follows:

For institutional sales (libraries, and the like) Tribeca Square Press can ship with a purchase order and invoice for payment. For individuals, payment is needed up front. Single copy price is $9.95, plus $4 shipping/handling. There’s a 20% discount for sales of 10 copies or more. Shipping in that case is $5 for first 5 copies and $1 for every additional 5 copies.

The book can be purchased by emailing [email protected]

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

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